A few months ago, you made me a salad for the first time. You were on winter break, and I was trying to work remotely from the extra bedroom. I was spending the day having awkward team meetings on Zoom and testing out variations of “I hope that you are doing well during these trying times” to start my emails. You were (I thought) perched up in your room watching hour-after-hour of YouTubers playing video games. (Why you wouldn’t just play the games yourself, I have no idea, but I guess even six-year-olds have discovered ways to be less productive during the pandemic.)
Anyway, I heard some noise coming from the kitchen but figured you were getting yourself a snack. It didn’t really occur to me until later that you were in the kitchen a LONG time. As many of us now know, time is very bendy when you’re working remotely, so I can’t really say how long you were there. Somewhere between twenty minutes and sixteen hours, I’d guess. As I say, time is very bendy.
However long it ended up being, at some point I heard you coming down the stairs. I began to feel that particular combination of excitement and dread that I’ve started feeling these days when you decide to interrupt me from my work. I feel excitement because I get to see my son during normal working hours. The dread comes from knowing there’s a decent chance that something has spilled, broken, been colored on, or requires a passcode.
You opened the door and the first thing I noticed was the giant grin on your face, the one you get when you know you’ve done something really tremendous. The next thing I noticed was the small plate of salad you held in your hands. “For me?” I asked. You said it was and gave it to me, then started bouncing on the balls of your feet in excitement.
I looked down and saw an incredible culinary creation. Large shreds of romaine and chunks of carrots were perfectly spread across the plate. A generous dollop of something whose hue is probably best described as “pukish orange” sat on the edge. “Is this the dressing?” I asked. “Uh-huh.” “What is it?” You told me it was a package of french fry sauce from last night’s fast-food dinner. My pride in you and what you had accomplished by yourself overcame my reluctance to partake. You hovered over me and made sure I ate every last bite.
Later, when I brought the dish up to the kitchen, I was overcome with fear, ex post facto, of what might have been. On the counter was a cutting board and our largest kitchen knife. That you managed to get through the carrots without taking a finger off in the process was a small miracle. We talked that night about making sure I was around to help you with your knifework from now on. I thought some more, then added a second lesson on rinsing off vegetables before serving them.
Over the following days you made me a number of creations, mostly salads. A couple of times you scared me by neglecting to ask for my help with the knife, so that I eventually ordered you a kid-friendly cutlery set off Amazon. A colleague who heard about your salad creations had the same concern, so you actually got a second set that included safety gloves. Now you have more knives than I do.
Your salads were rarely the same from day-to-day. One day you made me a fusion dish: romaine and carrots on a hamburger bun. Another day you added strawberries, and a friend pointed out that with some vinaigrette you could have charged $15 dollars for that one at a high-class restaurant. Another time, before your first cutlery set arrived, I pre-sliced the lettuce, cucumbers, and carrots for you in the morning; that afternoon, you added about a half-gallon of olive oil before serving it. My favorite, in terms of creativity though not necessarily in terms of taste, was one with a Hostess cupcake in the middle.
My son, I have to tell you, sometimes it feels like a hell of a lot of work to be a heartbroken widower, doing the parenting thing on my own now without many breaks. It can be a grind, from the moment I wake up and start packing your lunch to the moment I finally convince myself to stop looking at old pictures of your mom and go to sleep. It’s just not always easy to take care of you alone while also caring for myself. But then you bring me a salad, and I realize that you’re probably feeling the same way about caring for your dad all by yourself. And to the day I die, I may never experience love as tender as that of a six-year-old boy chopping vegetables in the kitchen to make me a healthy afternoon snack.
Thanks Caleb. I hope you continue to write often. I hope you write a book someday.👍